The incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) has been increasing steadily for the last 30 years, and attention is being focused on the possible causes of this increase. Possible explanations have included the exposure to viruses, radiation, nutrition, and pesticides, and these issues are addressed by other presentations in this workshop. The interest in a possible role of pesticides stems from the observation that farmers have an increased risk of NHL. However, farmers may also be exposed to oncogenic viruses carried by farm animals, and studies of abattoir workers and meat inspectors have found increased risks of NHL; although these findings are unlikely to be directly relevant to the general population, they do complement other suggestions that exposure to oncogenic viruses may be a factor in the general increase in NHL. Farmers may also be exposed to chronic antigenic stimulation which may increase the risk of NHL. This latter observation is consistent with the observation that NHL is associated with several autoimmune diseases which involve chronic antigenic stimulation. NHL has also been associated with a number of occupational exposures but these are generally rare and the findings are inconsistent, although a number of studies have found an increased risk of NHL in work involving exposure to wood, solvents, or related chemicals. Perhaps the strongest evidence of an association with an environmental exposure comes from two studies showing that use of hair dyes increases the risk of NHL. This exposure is relatively common in women, and hair dye use may account for approximately 20% of all NHL cases in women. However, it is not known if hair dye use has increased during the last 40 years. The evidence for an increased risk of NHL from other life-style factors such as alcohol, tobacco, and medication is generally weak and inconsistent.
Presented at the National Cancer Institute Workshop, “The Emerging Epidemic of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: Current Knowledge Regarding Etiological Factors,” October 22–23, 1991, Bethesda, MD. This work was conducted during the tenure of a Senior Research Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.